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Some Hurricane Sandy relief funds going toward TV ads
POINT PLEASANT, N.J. (Sharyl Attkisson) -- The Federal Government just announced a third round of disaster relief money, 2.5 billion dollars for states hit by super storm Sandy two years ago.
Congress approved a $50 billion dollar relief package following Hurricane Sandy's devastating blow to the Northeast in 2012. How much of that money was spent to rebuild communities? Sandy was the second costliest hurricane in the US behind Hurricane Katrina and there's now a pattern of how some taxpayer money is used following damaging and deadly storms.
Twenty months after super storm Sandy, it's slow going to rebuild hundreds of damaged properties in the small town of Point Pleasant, New Jersey.
Mayor Bill Schroeder sais, "I'd say we are probably 20% on the repair."
Schroeder blames, in part, a maddening bureaucracy that led residents to put off rebuilding while they waited for federal guidelines, guidelines that later disqualified them from getting help from New Jersey's $4.2 billion dollars in Sandy aid because their income wasn't low enough.
"That took almost a year," said Schroeder. "So you're amost into like January of 2014 before people realized they weren't getting any money."
Yet disaster relief money went full speed ahead for an expense that is usually off limits: TV ads promoting tourism. One commercial features New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
It turns out the government gave New Jersey and New York special waivers to spend some of their disaster money on tourism ads.
Louisiana and Mississippi were granted the same special permission after Hurricane Katrina.
Republican Senator Tom Coburn says disaster aid funds are meant to help those directly affected.
"Why is it a federal role that we take money from oklahoma or louisiana or california and send money to new jersey so they can run ads to suck people out of those states to go to new jersey?"
The department of housing and urban development or HUD administers the $15.2 billion allocated for rebuilding from Sandy. It granted the waivers for tourism ads.
Nobody there would agree to an interview. In a letter to Senator Coburn, a HUD official said, "Tourism support can be a useful recovery tool in a damaged regional economy that depends on tourism."
In January, critics accused christie of appearing in the taxpayer-funded Sandy ads to promote his reelection campaign, accusations he denies.
HUD's inspector general is now conducting an audit to see whether New Jersey followed all the rules.
Today, thousands of residents are still waiting to find out if they will get any Sandy relief money. Senator Coburn has asked HUD to stop allowing tens of millions of it to be spent on TV ads.
As for Point Pleasant, they've learned that getting disaster relief money is easier said than done.
Mayor Schroeder said, "Quite honestly it was everyone had their, was shaking their heads and throwing their hands in the air."
The townspeople will rebuild, the mayor say, just without much help from billions in federal disaster funds.
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